Thames Tales – Waterloo to London Bridge

You may recall that a few months back, I went on a guided walk, well guess what? I’ve done some more.

As I enjoyed the first one so much, I wanted to do it again, so I worked out how I could squeeze in a couple in one day, meaning I rocked up to Waterloo a little after 10am… along with around 50 to 60 other people. Keeping everyone together was a bit of a trial, but Neil the guide and his sheepdog Mary (his word, not mine) kept us all on the straight and narrow.


The tour was aptly called Tales from the Riverbank, as we hugged the Thames for the duration, starting off under the London Eye. We began with a potted history of the waterway as a whole, which boiled down to this: used by Romans for navigation, used by everyone as a sewer until the Great Stink of 1858, which prompted proper drains to be fitted.

After being assured that the sewerage system was having the desired effect (the Thames is now one of the cleanest city rivers in Europe), we moved to Waterloo Bridge, the current incarnation of which is known as the Ladies’ Bridge as womenfolk did much of the building, due to its erection during World War Two.

In truth, that’s a bit of a retcon – it had been called the Ladies’ Bridge previously, as it was often the chosen spot of fallen women who couldn’t live with whatever perceived shame they’d brought upon their family.


Livery companies were next up while we oversaw the gleaming HQS Wellington, which is home to the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. One nugget that stuck with me was it was these guilds that led to the phrase ‘at sixes and sevens’. In a nutshell, two couldn’t decide which order they should feature in the Lord Mayor’s Show, so they compromised and alternated positions each year – first in sixth place, then in seventh.

Passing Blackfriars Bridge (roughly the tipping point between salty and fresh water in the Thames), we reached Bankside, home of Tate Modern and the new(ish) Globe theatre (plus some annoying street performer who continually covered us with bubbles when we were nearby).

I was surprised to hear that the former was still a power station as recently as the 80s, while the original Globe wasn’t really on a chunk of prime riverside real estate – that was done purely for the punters. Its neighbouring buildings are significantly older and are contemporary with a time when Bankside was full of pubs, brothels, and pubs that were often fronts for brothels.


A small terrace of cottages remains, one is the home of the Dean of Southwark Cathedral (although he can see St Paul’s from it), while another claimed that Catherine of Aragon and Christopher Wren both stayed there… even though it hadn’t been built when they were about. Turns out the claims were a ruse by a previous owner in the 1950s or 1960s to save the place from demolition and in fairness it worked.

Coming towards the end of the walk, we encountered the remains of Winchester Palace, which when it was constructed in the 1100s took up about 10 acres of land – now it’s reduced to the 14th century west wall and 15th century rose window.

The palace was the London residence of the Bishop of Winchester and because it was church land, they could make up their own laws – including licencing prostitution in the area. Another one for etymology fans: these ladies were known as Winchester geese and being ‘bitten’ by one was a euphemism for an STI and – due to similarities in what happened to the skin – is possibly where we get the word goosebumps. RL Stine has a lot to answer for.


Our trek concluded just past the modern London Bridge near one of its predecessors, which for hundreds of years was the only central crossing of the Thames… despite only being about eight yards wide, and covered in buildings. If you go down to Tooley Street and see these metal lines in the street, they actually mark out the location and width.

With that, the first walk of the day was done – off to Monument for part two…


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